Cancer is a complex disease that arises from abnormal cell growth and can spread throughout the body. While conventional cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy can be effective in many cases, they may also cause side effects and may not work for all types of cancer. As such, researchers have explored the potential of herbs as complementary or alternative approaches to cancer treatment. Here are some herbs that may help shrink cancer tumors and support cancer treatment, based on scientific evidence.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice commonly used in Asian cuisine and traditional medicine. Turmeric contains a bioactive compound called curcumin, which has been found to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties in laboratory and animal studies (1). Curcumin can interfere with multiple signaling pathways involved in cancer development and progression, such as inflammation, angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels that feed tumors), and metastasis (the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body) (2). Clinical trials have investigated the effects of curcumin supplementation in various types of cancer, such as colorectal, pancreatic, breast, and lung cancer, and have reported some promising results, such as reduced tumor growth, improved response to chemotherapy, and decreased side effects (3). However, more research is needed to determine the optimal dose, duration, and safety of curcumin as a cancer treatment adjunct.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a herb that has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Garlic contains several bioactive compounds, including allicin, a sulfur-containing compound that has been found to have anti-cancer effects in preclinical studies (4). Allicin can induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells, inhibit cancer cell proliferation and invasion, and enhance the activity of natural killer cells and immune cells that target cancer cells (5). Epidemiological studies have also suggested that higher garlic intake may be associated with lower risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, stomach, and prostate cancer (6). However, clinical trials have yielded mixed results regarding the efficacy of garlic supplements in cancer prevention or treatment, and garlic may interact with some medications and increase the risk of bleeding (7). Therefore, more research is needed to clarify the role of garlic in cancer management and to ensure its safety and quality control.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a root herb that is widely used in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory and digestive properties. Ginger contains several active compounds, such as gingerols and shogaols, that have been found to have anti-cancer effects in laboratory and animal studies (8). Gingerols can inhibit cancer cell growth and induce apoptosis by targeting various signaling pathways, such as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) and mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) (9). Ginger may also enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and doxorubicin, by increasing their uptake and reducing their toxicity to healthy cells (10). Clinical trials have investigated the effects of ginger supplementation on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV), a common side effect of chemotherapy, and have shown that ginger may reduce the severity and frequency of CINV without causing significant adverse effects (11). However, the optimal dose and timing of ginger for cancer treatment and prevention are still uncertain, and ginger may interact with some medications and cause gastrointestinal symptoms in high doses (12).
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is a beverage that has been consumed for centuries in many cultures and is known for its rich content of antioxidants and polyphenols. Green tea contains a bioactive catechin called epigallocatechingallate (EGCG), which has been found to have anti-cancer properties in laboratory and animal studies (13). EGCG can inhibit cancer cell growth and induce apoptosis by modulating various pathways, such as PI3K/Akt/mTOR and Wnt/β-catenin (14). Green tea may also enhance the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy by sensitizing cancer cells to these treatments and reducing their side effects (15). Epidemiological studies have also suggested that higher green tea consumption may be associated with lower risk of various cancers, such as breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer (16). However, the optimal dose and formulation of green tea for cancer prevention and treatment are not well established, and high doses of green tea extracts may cause liver toxicity and interact with some medications (17).
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